BOOK REVIEW: 'When the World Outlawed War': 83-Year-Old Treaty Signed by U.S., France, Dozens of Other Nations, Actually Did That!

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'When the World Outlawed War': 83-Year-Old Treaty Signed by U.S., France, Dozens of Other Nations, Actually Did That!
Wouldn't it be great if war was a crime? If it could be prosecuted like murder, rape, child abuse and other crimes against humanity?   

Actually, 83 years ago the U.S. signed a treaty that did that, writes David Swanson in "When the World Outlawed War" (David Swanson self-published paperback, no index, 174 pages, ordered from 100Fires, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, other sellers, or your local independent bookstore, which can order it through Ingram.,  $15.00 -- bulk discounts available).
Swanson, a peace advocate who has been arrested for his beliefs, says in his very readable book that when he asks students if they've ever heard of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty of 1928, ratified by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 27, 1928, he rarely sees a hand raised. Named for U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg (1856-1937) and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, the treaty is still in force, the law of the land, according to the State Department.
It's been honored or dishonored more in the breach than in the observance, unfortunately for the tens of millions of people who've been murdered in wars since it was passed.
David Swanson
David Swanson

Swanson's account of the "Outlawry" peace movement in the wake of the meaningless slaughter of the First World War -- called the World War or Great War at the time of the treaty's passage -- is vital as endless wars bedevil the human species.

 I get a chuckle when I loudly proclaim to all and sundry that my beautiful shelter cat Greta belongs to a higher species than humans, but quite a few people agree with me when I ask them to point to ONE WAR that cats -- or dogs or horses -- started.   

Erik Larson writes in his masterful "In the Garden of Beasts" (reviewed on this site, link: that Nazi Germany had strict laws against abusing horses and dogs -- the happiest creatures in the Third Reich -- but ended up slaughtering or causing to be slaughtered 60 million people in the second "Great War" because there was no law against killing people in the guise of war. 

In fact, as Swanson points out, the Nuremburg War Crimes tribunals that followed the war -- as well as similar trials against Japanese militarists -- had their legal roots in the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, also known as the Pact of Paris, where it was signed. Japan and Germany -- the Weimar Republic democratic version --  were among the many nations that signed it.  

Swanson proposes adopting Aug. 27 -- the day that the treaty was signed -- as a national holiday of peace. We already have enough holidays recognizing war.

The Kellogg–Briand Pact -- in keeping with the tenets of the Outlawry movement -- renounced war -- all war --prohibiting the use of war as "an instrument of national policy".  Unfortunately,  It made no provisions for sanctions, as if sanctions would have deterred the invasion of Manchuria by Japan a few years later or the Italian invasion of Ethiopia a few years after that or Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939 -- along with its then ally, the USSR -- of the same country.   The pact was the result of a determined American effort to avoid involvement in the European alliance system. It was registered inLeague of Nations Treaty Series on September 4, 1928. Yes, the same League of Nations that the U.S. decided, against the wishes of President Woodrow Wilson, not to join.    Not that Swanson is a big fan of Wilson, who campaigned for re-election in 1916 on the slogan "He Kept Us Out of the War." A month after he was inaugurated, in April 1917, the U.S. was in the war against the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. In his 2010 book, "War Is a Lie," Swanson details the lies of Wilson and -- a few decades later, FDR, who served Wilson as assistant secretary of the Navy -- to get us involved in, respectively, World War I and the Second World War.

In its original form, the Kellogg-Briand pact was a renunciation of war between only France and the United States. Kellogg  wanted to retain American freedom of action; he thus responded with a proposal for a multilateral pact against war open for all nations to become signatories.    The U.S. Senate approved the treaty overwhelmingly, 85–1, with only Wisconsin Republican John J. Blaine voting against. While the Senate did not add any reservation to the treaty, it did pass a measure "interpreting" the treaty which included the statement that the treaty must not infringe upon America's right of self defense and that the United States was not obliged to enforce the treaty by taking action against those who violated it.

The Kellogg-Briand pact was signed   by the representatives from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, India, the Irish Free State, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, the United Kingdom  and the United States. It was proclaimed to go into effect on July 24, 1929. By that date, the following nations had deposited instruments of definitive adherence to the pact: Afghanistan, Albania,Austria, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Romania, the Soviet Union, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Siam, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. Eight further states joined after that date: Persia, Greece, Honduras, Chile, Luxembourg, Danzig, Costa Rica and Venezuela.    In his book, Swanson asks the question: what's the present name of Persia. Everybody out there knows that's it's Iran, which was involved in a bloody war in the 1980s with Iraq, don't they?

Although it was conducted outside of the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand pact was recognized as a treaty by that body. Its "outlawry" of war  confirmed and broadened by the United Nations Charter, which states in article 2, paragraph 4, that

"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."

I found the book eye-opening and enlightening. As a history nut, I had heard of the treaty, but I had pretty much dismissed it as irrelevant. It isn''s the law of the land. Too bad we -- and virtually every country in the world -- have forgotten the lessons of the "Outlawry" peace movement propelled by people like S.O. Levinson, Nicholas Murray Butler, John Dewey, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others -- and of course Frank B. Kellogg of Minnesota. 

About the Author
David Swanson is an American author, blogger, and anti-war activist. He served as press secretary for Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign. He was a key figure in making the Downing Street Memo known across America. The memo, the leaked minutes of a meeting of the British war cabinet, exposed the lies behind the Iraq War.  He blogs at and

Editor's Note: Swanson will sign his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Random Row Books, 315 West Main Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902.
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